Anti-Choice “C-Streeter” Opposing Pelosi for Minority Leader

Jodi Jacobson

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced today that she will run for minority leader of the House Democrats. She is being opposed by conservative white male Democrats from the Blue Dog coalition whose ranks were decimated in the past election.  Guess who they blame for their losses? You guessed it: Speaker Pelosi.

Remember the words, “Stupak Amendment?”  Keep those in mind as you read further.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today announced that she would place herself in the running to become House minority leader when Congress reconvenes. 

Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, was in large part responsible for ensuring the success of virtually every piece of legislation passed during the Obama Administration, including health care reform.  Some bills that succeeded in the House failed in the Senate due to lack of effective action to pass them.  Pelosi did not allow this to happen in the House while she held the gavel in her hand.

While clearly elements of some of these laws leave something to be desired–such as the ban on coverage for abortion care in private insurance policies–Pelosi’s ability to navigate and garner majority votes from an often fractious Democratic majority has won accolades even from opponents. 

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Pelosi also endured–seemingly without batting an eyelash–a flood of mean-spirited and sexist campaigns against her by both Republican and Tea Party actors seeking to vilify her through the use of imagery and strategies devised by people with the maturity level of sixth graders, and in what could only be described as a bid to distract from their own lack of ideas, lack of experience, lack of true leadership ability, or all of the above.

Pelosi, however, is being challenged by none other than Congressman Heath Shuler, a good ol’ boy conservative southern Blue Dog Democrat. According to the Washington Post:

A fiscally-conservative Blue Dog, Shuler opposed the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008, President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill and the March 2010 health-care reform, caslling it too expensive. He was so diametrically opposed to the Democratic agenda at times that Politico said he was on top of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) “disfavor list.”Thrush, Glenn, “Pelosi’s list: Who’s on her bad side?” Politico.com, March 2, 2009(2)

Shuler is also anti-choice, with an 85 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.  And he’s proud of it.  I’m not sure whether this is “worse,” but according to Jeff Sharlet, he also is a member of the “C Street crowd.” He of course voted for the Stupak Amendment in the health reform bill, but after it was in there, opposed passage of the final bill

Shuler was joined today by what a Roll Call headline ominously called “more Democrats,”  translating when one actually read the story into a total of two more men.

One is Congressman Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and the other is Dan Boren (D-OK).

Calling Pelosi a “lightening rod,” Sires also said:

I think she’s been a very strong leader, I support her, but the result of this election shows we need some new direction and I think the best way is for her to move on.” 

Boren, also a Blue Dog conservative, released a statement Friday saying he would not support Pelosi to lead the Caucus.

“I cannot in good conscience support Nancy Pelosi as Leader,” Boren said. “I intend to support a more conservative Democrat alternative.”

According to a Washington Post profile:

Given Oklahoma’s centrist ideological leanings, Boren walks a fine line politically — one that often strays far from the Democratic Party. He’s often frustrated the House Democratic leadership with votes against major Democratic initiatives, and even refused to explicitly endorse Barack Obama after he won the party’s 2008 presidential nomination.“Dan Boren won’t endorse Obama,” Associated Press, June 10, 2008. He has been targeted by national labor groups for his position against the Employee Free Choice Act, which labor argues would make it harder to unionize. But on the other side of the political spectrum, Boren has support from gun-rights groups as he sits on the board of the National Rifle Association.

Boren’s exact position on choice issues is mixed.  He claims he is pro-choice but has an 82 percent rating from NRLC, not a good thing in the women’s rights world.

And all of this is quite ironic.

First of all, the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition was decimated this past Tuesday, losing half their coalition.  They of course blame this on Pelosi.  But the fact is that the small minority of Democrats now represented by the Blue Dog coalition is challenging one of the most effective Speakers of the House in recent history, a Speaker who is representative of a far larger share of Democrats, and of the progressive policies needed to take this country forward.

Second, as noted above, the Blue Dogs are anti-choice.  And third they are all….white men.

Newsflash for Shuler, Boren and others.  Women have long been a critical constituency of the Democratic party, and though even women have had enough of the lack of leadership by the male-dominated party, they were nonetheless generally responsible for making the difference in this election between a huge loss (the House) and complete devastation (if the Dems had also lost the Senate).  If not for progressive women voters in Colorado (Michael Bennett), Washington State (Patty Murray), and California (Barbara Boxer), to name a few, the Democrats would all be very blue, dawg, indeed.

But women as advocates, funders, and voters are not happy with the gutting of their private coverage on abortion care, nor the prospect of a fight over coverage of contraceptives under health insurance.  The majority of women do not want to see further tax cuts for the wealthy, the slashing of Pell grants, increases in retirement age for Social Security benefits, elimination of the minimium wage, or the gutting of environmental regulations while we give away the store to billionaires.  And they certainly don’t want a Speaker of the House of the kind Shuler represents, who is more interested in acting like a right-wing conservative in Democrat’s clothing than a Democrat driven by deeply held principles, and whose modus operandi would be bending over backward to accommodate John Boehner on issues of critical concern to women, whether in regard to promised attacks on health care or in other areas such as the economy, environment, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. 

Shuler further represents the mind-numbingly unnuanced view that Democrats lost so many seats last Tuesday because they were too “liberal,” a viewpoint being pushed by folks like Evan Bayh, Mark Penn, and the not-really-clear-on-anything group, Third Way.  Newsflash 2: If we wanted a one-party system, I am sure many more people out there would have just voted for right-wing conservatives and gotten it over with.  Life is more complicated and so were the reasons for the outcome of this election.

I’m also fairly certain that given women are indeed the majority supporters of the Democratic Party, they’d be very happy to have a female minority leader who promises to fight for their priorities, rather than another line of men of whichever party throwing them under the bus.  And I find it ironic that after so many years of driving the political bus nowhere fast, men are so quick to ditch women leaders.

Daily Kos is running a petition campaign for those wanting to support the Speaker’s bid to become minority leader.

Analysis Abortion

‘Pro-Life’ Pence Transfers Money Intended for Vulnerable Households to Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jenn Stanley

Donald Trump's running mate has said that "life is winning in Indiana"—and the biggest winner is probably a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that landed a $3.5 million contract in funds originally intended for poor Hoosiers.

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

Under Pence, ideology has replaced evidence in many areas of public life. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has just hired a running mate who, in the past year, has reallocated millions of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda. Currently, Indiana law requires people seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins. And thanks, in part, to other restrictive laws making it more difficult for clinics to operate, there are currently six abortion providers in Indiana, and none in the northern part of the state. Only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have an abortion provider. All this means that many people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

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“Indiana is committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing [sic] of Hoosier families, women, and children,” reads the first line of the contract between the Indiana State Department of Health and Real Alternatives. The contract, which began on October 1, 2015, allocates $3.5 million over the course of a year for Real Alternatives to use to fund crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.

Where Funding Comes From

The money for the Real Alternatives contract comes from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, a federally funded, state-run program meant to support the most vulnerable households with children. The program was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. It changed welfare from a federal program that gave money directly to needy families to one that gave money, and a lot of flexibility with how to use it, to the states.

This TANF block grant is supposed to provide low-income families a monthly cash stipend that can be used for rent, child care, and food. But states have wide discretion over these funds: In general, they must use the money to serve families with children, but they can also fund programs meant, for example, to promote marriage. They can also make changes to the requirements for fund eligibility.

As of 2012, to be eligible for cash assistance in Indiana, a household’s maximum monthly earnings could not exceed $377, the fourth-lowest level of qualification of all 50 states, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Indiana’s program also has some of the lowest maximum payouts to recipients in the country.

Part of this is due to a 2011 work requirement that stripped eligibility from many families. Under the new work requirement, a parent or caretaker receiving assistance needs to be “engaged in work once the State determines the parent or caretaker is ready to engage in work,” or after 24 months of receiving benefits. The maximum time allowed federally for a family to receive assistance is 60 months.

“There was a TANF policy change effective November 2011 that required an up-front job search to be completed at the point of application before we would proceed in authorizing TANF benefits,” Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), told Rewire. “Most [applicants] did not complete the required job search and thus applications were denied.”

Unspent money from the block grant can be carried over to following years. Indiana receives an annual block grant of $206,799,109, but the state hasn’t been using all of it thanks to those low payouts and strict eligibility requirements. The budget for the Real Alternatives contract comes from these carry-over funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Parties involved in the contract defended it to Rewire by saying they provide material goods to expecting and new parents, but Rewire obtained documents that showed a much different reality.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by Kevin Bagatta, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no known professional experience with medical or mental health services. It helps open, finance, and refer clients to crisis pregnancy centers. The program started in Pennsylvania, where it received a $30 million, five-year grant to support a network of 40 subcontracting crisis pregnancy centers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called for an audit of the organization between June 2012 and June 2015 after hearing reports of mismanaged funds, and found $485,000 in inappropriate billing. According to the audit, Real Alternatives would not permit DHS to review how the organization used those funds. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in April that at least some of the money appears to have been designated for programs outside the state.

Real Alternatives also received an $800,000 contract in Michigan, which inspired Gov. Pence to fund a $1 million yearlong pilot program in northern Indiana in the fall of 2014.

“The widespread success [of the pilot program] and large demand for these services led to the statewide expansion of the program,” reads the current $3.5 million contract. It is unclear what measures the state used to define “success.”

 

“Every Other Baby … Starts With Women’s Care Center”

Real Alternatives has 18 subcontracting centers in Indiana; 15 of them are owned by Women’s Care Center, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. According to its website, Women’s Care Center serves 25,000 women annually in 23 centers throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Women’s Care Centers in Indiana received 18 percent of their operating budget from state’s Real Alternatives program during the pilot year, October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, which were mostly reimbursements for counseling and classes throughout pregnancy, rather than goods and services for new parents.

In fact, instead of the dispensation of diapers and food, “the primary purpose of the [Real Alternatives] program is to provide core services consisting of information, sharing education, and counseling that promotes childbirth and assists pregnant women in their decision regarding adoption or parenting,” the most recent contract reads.

The program’s reimbursement system prioritizes these anti-choice classes and counseling sessions: The more they bill for, the more likely they are to get more funding and thus open more clinics.

“This performance driven [sic] reimbursement system rewards vendor service providers who take their program reimbursement and reinvest in their services by opening more centers and hiring more counselors to serve more women in need,” reads the contract.

Classes, which are billed as chastity classes, parenting classes, pregnancy classes, and childbirth classes, are reimbursed at $21.80 per client. Meanwhile, as per the most recent contract, counseling sessions, which are separate from the classes, are reimbursed by the state at minimum rates of $1.09 per minute.

Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of Women’s Care Center, told Rewire that half of all pregnant women in Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, and one in four pregnant women in Allen County, are clients of their centers. To receive any material goods, such as diapers, food, and clothing, she said, all clients must receive this counseling, at no cost to them. Such counseling is billed by the minute for reimbursement.

“When every other baby born [in those counties] starts with Women’s Care Center, that’s a lot of minutes,” Hunsberger told Rewire.

Rewire was unable to verify exactly what is said in those counseling sessions, except that they are meant to encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and to help them decide between adoption or child rearing, according to Hunsberger. As mandated by the contract, both counseling and classes must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”

In the first quarter of the new contract alone, Women’s Care Center billed Real Alternatives and, in turn, the state, $239,290.97; about $150,000 of that was for counseling, according to documents obtained by Rewire. In contrast, goods like food, diapers, and other essentials for new parents made up only about 18.5 percent of Women’s Care Center’s first-quarter reimbursements.

Despite the fact that the state is paying for counseling at Women’s Care Center, Rewire was unable to find any licensing for counselors affiliated with the centers. Hunsberger told Rewire that counseling assistants and counselors complete a minimum training of 200 hours overseen by a master’s level counselor, but the counselors and assistants do not all have social work or psychology degrees. Hunsberger wrote in an email to Rewire that “a typical Women’s Care Center is staffed with one or more highly skilled counselors, MSW or equivalent.”

Rewire followed up for more information regarding what “typical” or “equivalent” meant, but Hunsberger declined to answer. A search for licenses for the known counselors at Women’s Care Center’s Indiana locations turned up nothing. The Indiana State Department of Health told Rewire that it does not monitor or regulate the staff at Real Alternatives’ subcontractors, and both Women’s Care Center and Real Alternatives were uncooperative when asked for more information regarding their counseling staff and training.

Bethany Christian Services and Heartline Pregnancy Center, Real Alternatives’ other Indiana subcontractors, billed the program $380.41 and $404.39 respectively in the first quarter. They billed only for counseling sessions, and not goods or classes.

In a 2011 interview with Philadelphia City Paper, Kevin Bagatta said that Real Alternatives counselors were not required to have a degree.

“We don’t provide medical services. We provide human services,” Bagatta told the City Paper.

There are pregnancy centers in Indiana that provide a full range of referrals for reproductive health care, including for STI testing and abortion. However, they are not eligible for reimbursement under the Real Alternatives contract because they do not maintain an anti-choice mission.

Parker Dockray is the executive director of Backline, an all-options pregnancy resource center. She told Rewire that Backline serves hundreds of Indiana residents each month, and is overwhelmed by demand for diapers and other goods, but it is ineligible for the funding because it will refer women to abortion providers if they choose not to carry a pregnancy to term.

“At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, it is irresponsible for the state to divert funds intended to support low-income women and children and give it to organizations that provide biased pregnancy counseling,” Dockray told Rewire. “We wish that Indiana would use this funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using it to promote an anti-abortion agenda.”

“Life Is Winning in Indiana”

Time and again, Bagatta and Hunsberger stressed to Rewire that their organizations do not employ deceitful tactics to get women in the door and to convince them not to have abortions. However, multiple studies have proven that crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women from the moment they search online for an abortion provider through the end of their appointments inside the center.

These studies have also shown that publicly funded crisis pregnancy centers dispense medically inaccurate information to clients. In addition to spreading lies like abortion causing infertility or breast cancer, they are known to give false hopes of miscarriages to people who are pregnant and don’t want to be. A 2015 report by NARAL Pro-Choice America found this practice to be ubiquitous in centers throughout the United States, and Rewire found that Women’s Care Center is no exception. The organization’s website says that as many as 40 percent of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. While early pregnancy loss is common, it occurs in about 10 percent of known pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Crisis pregnancy centers also tend to crop up next to abortion clinics with flashy, deceitful signs that lead many to mistakenly walk into the wrong building. Once inside, clients are encouraged not to have an abortion.

A Google search for “abortion” and “Indianapolis” turns up an ad for the Women’s Care Center as the first result. It reads: “Abortion – Indianapolis – Free Ultrasound before Abortion. Located on 86th and Georgetown. We’re Here to Help – Call Us Today: Abortion, Ultrasound, Locations, Pregnancy.”

Hunsberger denies any deceit on the part of Women’s Care Center.

“Clients who walk in the wrong door are informed that we are not the abortion clinic and that we do not provide abortions,” Hunsberger told Rewire. “Often a woman will choose to stay or return because we provide services that she feels will help her make the best decision for her, including free medical-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds which help determine viability and gestational age.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky told Rewire that since Women’s Care Center opened on 86th and Georgetown in Indianapolis, many patients looking for its Georgetown Health Center have walked through the “wrong door.”

“We have had patients miss appointments because they went into their building and were kept there so long they missed their scheduled time,” Judi Morrison, vice president of marketing and education, told Rewire.

Sarah Bardol, director of Women’s Care Center’s Indianapolis clinic, told the Criterion Online Edition, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the first day the center was open, a woman and her boyfriend did walk into the “wrong door” hoping to have an abortion.

“The staff of the new Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis, located just yards from the largest abortion provider in the state, hopes for many such ‘wrong-door’ incidents as they seek to help women choose life for their unborn babies,” reported the Criterion Online Edition.

If they submit to counseling, Hoosiers who walk into the “wrong door” and “choose life” can receive up to about $40 in goods over the course their pregnancy and the first year of that child’s life. Perhaps several years ago they may have been eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but now with the work requirement, they may not qualify.

In a February 2016 interview with National Right to Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-choice groups, Gov. Pence said, “Life is winning in Indiana.” Though Pence was referring to the Real Alternatives contract, and the wave of anti-choice legislation sweeping through the state, it’s not clear what “life is winning” actually means. The state’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,172 lives in 2014, a statistically significant increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV infections have spread dramatically throughout the state, in part because of Pence’s unwillingness to support medically sound prevention practices. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is above the national average, and infant mortality among Black babies is even higher. And Pence has reduced access to prevention services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood through budget cuts and unnecessary regulations—while increasing spending on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence’s track record shows that these policies are no mistake. The medical and financial needs of his most vulnerable constituents have taken a backseat to religious ideology throughout his time in office. He has literally reallocated money for poor Hoosiers to fund anti-choice organizations. In his tenure as both a congressman and a governor, he’s proven that whether on a national or state level, he’s willing to put “pro-life” over quality-of-life for his constituents.

News Politics

Unredacted Documents Link Blackburn Investigation, Anti-Choice Front Group

Christine Grimaldi

No matter which came first, the underlying fact remains the same: CMP and Blackburn are using many of the same documents to try and prove the existence of fetal tissue trafficking.

This is the second article in a two-part series on the effect Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is having on the research community. You can read the first piece in the series here.

The anti-choice front group that triggered Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)’s investigation into widely discredited allegations of fetal tissue trafficking first revealed the identities of researchers who have used fetal tissue in their work more than a year ago.

In May 2015, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published unredacted documents naming the researchers that are identical to those used by the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, according to a publicly available online directory discovered by Rewire. In June 2016, CMP added to its database unredacted Planned Parenthood contracts, which appeared verbatim among the documents that Blackburn sent over to the Obama administration as part of her request for a federal abortion inquiry.

CMP’s heavily edited videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations led to three congressional investigations that yielded no evidence of wrongdoing and the creation of the current panel, seemingly intent on proving otherwise. David Daleiden, the group’s leader, remains under criminal indictment in Texas for fraud in connection with his production and release of the videos. This month, Arizona became the 13th state to find no substance to his allegations.

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One of the at least 14 researchers named in the documents agreed to an interview with Rewire, some of which appeared in part one of this series, on the condition of anonymity. The researcher wasn’t aware that such a prominent anti-choice group had previously revealed the names and contact information for individuals typically found in laboratories, not abortion clinics. Neither did Eugene Gu, a second researcher that spoke with Rewire on the record. The select panel subpoenaed Gu’s company, Ganogen, Inc., in March.

Gu said that by releasing the names and delaying the redactions, Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives select panel allowed anti-choice groups to get their hands on the researchers’ personal and professional information. The documents were available online for two days before the belated redactions. Links to the unredacted documents sent to reporters remained live for at least five days.

“I was actually hoping that they corrected it fast enough that it wouldn’t be re-circulated, but I guess that was just wishful thinking,” Gu said.

Relationship Raises Eyebrows on Capitol Hill

Gu didn’t realize that CMP had circulated the researchers’ names in 2015. No matter which came first, the underlying fact remains the same: CMP and Blackburn are using many of the same documents to try and prove the existence of fetal tissue trafficking.

Reports have previously linked the two: Media Matters for America reported that Blackburn’s exhibits at the panel’s April hearing on fetal tissue “pricing” closely mirrored those in the CMP attack videos. Screens showing select images from the same exhibits flanked Blackburn as she delivered a conservative call to action against “baby body parts” in June at the faith-based Road to Majority conference.

The connection, at a minimum, raises a chicken-or-egg scenario. Is CMP feeding information to Blackburn, is it the other way around—or is it a combination of the two?

Congressional Democrats have few doubts that it’s all of the above.

“That relationship is clearly very close,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking member, said in an interview with Rewire. “It certainly appears that the Republicans may be receiving documents and information directly from Daleiden or someone associated with him.”

Democrats on the panel have called on Blackburn to reevaluate the alleged relationship among repeated caucus-wide pleas to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to shut down the investigation.

StemExpress, the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos, raised the same objections over Blackburn’s exhibits for the hearing looking into the allegations of fetal tissue “pricing.”

“While some of these illegally obtained documents are posted to the CMP website, some of the Majority’s exhibits have never appeared publicly, suggesting that perhaps the Select Panel may be receiving so-called ‘evidence’ directly from Mr. Daleiden and/or his associates,” the company’s counsel wrote in a letter to the select panel.

Blackburn’s select panel did not respond for comment by publication time.

Researchers’ Ethics Counter Blackburn’s Allegations

Researchers’ concerns extend beyond their personal well-being to the chilling effect of the select panel’s investigation on scientific advancements. Blackburn has downplayed the importance of fetal tissue in research, which is legal and heavily regulated, amid other misconceptions about the ethics of “baby body parts.”

Fetal tissue research plays an important role in understanding the causes of diseases, particularly Zika and others that strike in utero, according to the researcher. Such research could also lead to major developments in the area of regenerative medicine, potentially replacing lost neurons as a result of Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

The researcher that requested anonymity sought to correct the record on Blackburn’s assertions about the processes governing such research.

“It’s important for the public to understand the way research works,” the researcher said. Biologists “will do absolutely everything that they can” in the initial stages to use human cultured cells or animal models, turning to fetal tissue specimens only for final, confirmatory experiments. The researcher described a multistep process that involved senior-level reviews to determine whether experiments had advanced to that stage and, if so, establish reputable sources from which to place orders.

“I would want to reassure people who don’t support the use of fetal tissue for research that researchers take the weight of the responsibility of using this material very seriously,” the researcher said. The research community approaches fetal tissue “with the utmost respect” and reserves use “for the most important experiments when there is no other possible scientifically valid way to address the question that needs to be addressed.”

Frustrations, Fears Run High Amid Slowing Research

Gu echoed similar ethical considerations in his use of fetal tissue. Through Ganogen, he’s set an ambitious goal: End the organ donor shortage, starting with pediatric patients, by growing human fetal organs in animals. He credits fetal tissue with the potential to greatly accelerate the clinical trial process.

“There’s no alternative to having human tissue, and this is human tissue that would be incinerated and thrown away. We’re not encouraging abortions in any shape or form,” Gu said. “A transplant surgeon doesn’t encourage traffic fatalities so they have organs to transplant into their patients.”

The research community, nevertheless, is suffering as a direct result of the investigation and the anti-choice sentiment fueling it. The New York Times reported a downturn in the availability of fetal tissue for research and the willingness of institutions to proceed with what remains. One neurologist delayed his multiple sclerosis research until 2019, according to the Washington Post.

Separately, the reproductive health-care community is facing its own set of consequences—in the form of unprecedented violence that researchers fear could head their way and ultimately, dissuade them from participating in fetal tissue research.

The researcher that requested anonymity recognized the cessation of research as the investigation’s “intended,” if misguided, goal.

“To my mind, it doesn’t help the overall cause of improving humanity by curing disease, and finding new remedies for conditions that plague all of us, to intimidate researchers in this way, especially in an instance like this where it is not the researchers themselves that are accused of doing anything wrong,” the researcher said.

The way Gu sees it, the select panel isn’t just putting his own life, and research, at risk. It’s endangering widespread medical advancements. And it’s frustrating for him.

“That’s why we went to medical school in the first place—to help patients, not to be subpoenaed by Congress,” Gu said.